Monday, June 21, 2010
Don't Do Without Her Before You Must
My Mom has lived with us for nearly six years. This has worked for us because Mom has her own space, a three room apartment adjoining our home. Over the years she's learned to think of her apartment as her "house," and her Alzheimer's has not yet progressed to the point that she habitually dispenses with deeply ingrained social rules. For example, she still understands that she should not enter someone else's house and roam around at will! Oh there have been times when, like Goldilocks, Mom has entered our part of the house when we weren't at home; but she is generally happier and more at ease in her own familiar space. And so, we have our space, and she has hers; and in this way we've all survived quite nicely.
I take good care of my mother. I bring her three meals and two snacks a day, empty her trash cans, do all of her shopping and assist with much of her personal care. I've negotiated the transition from the role of dependent daughter to dependable caregiver quite nicely, thank you.
However, a side effect of keeping too strict a perspective as caregiver is that I suffer an unfortunate tendency to detach from the emotional connection I shared with my mother in the days that I interacted with her as a daughter. I always said that my mom was my best friend, and in those days I would call and beg her to come to spend time with me, or I would show up unannounced at her house. In short, I enjoyed her company. As I transitioned to the role of caregiver I grieved over the loss of this kind of connection with my mom, and for the most part it was easier and somehow safer emotionally simply to detach. This is sad, but grief is a portion of the burden of being either a caregiver or a care recipient.
This afternoon, as a part of my caregiving duties, I sat down with my mom in her apartment. Our respite care provider is on vacation and I knew Mom needed the stimulation of conversation. She was entertaining herself by singing snatches of old hymns, and so I rummaged through a box and found the hymnal she'd used as a child at Union Church in the Ozark Hills of Missouri. About twenty minutes later I suddenly realized that I was no longer interacting with Mom in my role as caregiver, but was myself receiving nurture from my mother's voice, the familiar hymns, and undoubtedly from the presence of the Holy Spirit.
My relationship with mom will never again be what it once was, but I pray for the ability to continue to find ways to enjoy her for the person she has become, and not just as someone who needs my caregiving services.